The Lack of Licensing for Private Investigators in Mississippi
- February 16, 2016
- by Richard Brooks
How many states remain in the US without mandatory licensing for Private Investigators? Do you know? Based upon the research I have conducted, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Wyoming and portions of Alaska are all that remain.
I am Richard A. Brooks, a private investigations business owner and father of two from Brandon, Mississippi. I am the President of the Mississippi Professional Investigators Association and the Mississippi Chapter Director of the Association of Christian Investigators. I have been working towards mandatory licensing for all Private Investigators in Mississippi for the past three years. There was someone before me in 2007 and we have all been unsuccessful thus far in our efforts to protect our citizens. Mississippi, and the few remaining non licensed states, desperately needs licensing for Private Investigators. In the Southeast, Mississippi is all that remains. Now that Alabama has passed their law, it is certainly time to pass ours.
I am a former active duty military and civilian (Mississippi) law enforcement officer. I have been a PI for approximately 14 years since leaving law enforcement. I am a resident of Rankin County, Mississippi. As noted, I am also a small business owner; Richard Brooks Investigations, LLC, was established in 2006 to provide various investigative services in several states across the Southeast.
Although I have been licensed in 9 different states during the course of my career as a Private Investigator, currently I hold PI agency licenses in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. I often speak to groups about various issues regarding the Private Investigations industry but I am primarily asked to speak about PI licensing.
I have conducted many interviews in the media about the PI industry. I often write and speak about the lack of PI licensure in states like Mississippi. I usually refer to Mississippi as the “Wild West” when it comes to the PI industry. Most people and elected officials aren’t even aware that we have no licensing requirements for PI’s in Mississippi. Please just think about that for a moment. The person who does your hair has to be licensed. The person who does your nails has to be licensed. The person who gives you a message even has to be licensed in Mississippi but a PI, an individual who can easily gain access to your personal information, only has to have a pulse! That just doesn’t make sense and most states realized that long ago.
It's funny; one of our local news stations here in the Jackson, Mississippi area recently ran a story about cosmetologists performing services without being licensed. How horrible! They were shocked that this could happen in Mississippi! If they only knew what goes on every day in states like ours where there are countless individuals acting as PI's who are unlicensed and unqualified.
I realized that we needed licensing more than ever when I initially became the President of the MPIA. I have found that we have become a magnet for PI’s with criminal backgrounds and individuals who cannot obtain PI licensing in other states. We now have to require Mississippi residency, a copy of a Mississippi business license, a background and reference checks on anyone who wants to become a member of our Association. This is solely due to lack of licensing in our state. We have to be on constant guard and watchful of unscrupulous “PI’s” who can’t get licensed in their own states. These individuals will "jump across" our state line and set up shop here in Mississippi as a PI agency. They will then try to become members of the Mississippi Professional Investigators Association in an effort to legitimize themselves and their business. We are constantly denying applicants at MPIA. It is never our goal or intention to deny members as we need and want to grow. Unfortunately, we as an Association have no choice but to be cautious of new applicants in Mississippi due to the lack of regulation. We as Private Investigators and representatives of the Mississippi Professional Investigators Association want to protect ourselves and the public by requiring a license for Private Investigators, which must include a full background check on the person applying for the license. We also wish to insure that our profession is just that, a profession, which services businesses, lawyers, government and the citizens of Mississippi.
As the President of MPIA, I deal directly with neighboring state’s Associations, their Presidents and Past Presidents.
Kelly Riddle was voted the “Best Private Investigator in the United States”. He is also the former President of the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators, the current Director of the Association of Christian Investigators and the Council for (PI) Association Leaders, just to name a few of his credentials. Kelly told me the licensing bureau in the State of Texas has always taken the stance that it is their responsibility to protect the citizens of Texas. He added that requiring PI’s to be licensed helps to insure that those individuals who have access to personal information and secure databases are using the information for permissible purposes. Licensing also insures the general public that they are not going to be scammed as licensed PI’s are required to have contracts that outline their services and costs for those services. Of course, a good, experienced, licensed PI can be a tremendous asset to the community and to law enforcement.
To expand on Kelly Riddle's comments, PI's have access to sensitive data and there is nothing to restrict criminals who claim to be a Private Investigator but have been convicted of fraud, theft, rape and even child molestation, from using this data to track victims or even the family members of elected officials in Mississippi!
Tim O’Rourke, the President of the Florida Association of Licensed Investigators, told me that 46 states have found it necessary to take action to protect the citizens of their states from un-ethical practices of the people engaged in private investigations. Below is a statement from the Florida Department of Licensure and a link to their website. “It is the responsibility of the division to protect the public from unethical business practices on the part of persons providing private security, private investigative and recovery services to the public through licensure and regulation of those industries pursuant to Chapter 493, Florida Statutes”.
Before Alabama passed their new PI law, I would constantly speak to PI’s who would tell me, “I just work Alabama and Mississippi….;” the two non-licensed states in the Southeast. Those days are now gone as Alabama has found it necessary to pass a law. Mississippi is now the only non licensed state that remains in the Southeastern United States.
I was advised by Jim Casteel, the President of the Alabama Private Investigators Association, that Alabama really had no choice but to pass their law due to the problems they were encountering in the state.
According to Jerry Mitchell, an award winning reporter for the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s largest newspaper, Mississippi has also had its fair share of problems with Private Investigators. In fact, Mr. Mitchell wrote an article on the subject in August of 2015, which can be found below.
We in Mississippi will continue to be embarrassed by individuals claiming to be a “PI” and the state will eventually be scrambling around, forced to adopt licensure exactly like they did in Alabama. It is my belief that we need to act now.
I have been contacted by other PI agencies who advertise that they are located in Mississippi. Upon further investigation, I have found that they are actually nowhere near our state. These companies have contacted me in an attempt to advertise for work in Mississippi. Upon receipt of those Mississippi cases, their intention is to funnel those cases to someone else locally to work the case so they can make a profit. For example; how is a PI company in Alaska able to advertise that they have a physical, although unmanned, office located here in Mississippi? NO PI LICENSING. I was contacted by an agency with offices in Alaska and Mississippi. Why would an Anchorage, Alaska PI firm have an office in downtown Brandon, MS? IN MOST PORTIONS OF ALASKA AND IN ALL OF MISSISSIPPI THERE IS NO PI LICENSE REQUIREMENT. It really hurts legitimate PI’s. It not only affects PI’s and local jobs, but the general public is also at risk.
There will be some investigators who don’t want to pay the fee for licensing and who do not wish to have any additional government oversight. As a small business owner who is also licensed on other states, I certainly agree with them and I wish we didn’t have to have such a law. Unfortunately, we simply no longer have a choice in the matter in this day and time. We are losing investigative jobs in Mississippi because insurance companies and other firms would rather send investigators in from regulated states than take a chance on an investigator from a non-regulated state. In addition, I recently had a Mississippi case that I couldn’t work. The parties involved traveled to Tennessee. As we have no licensing and no reciprocity exists between Mississippi and anyone, Tennessee would not allow me to work in that state. I had to give my case away to an investigator licensed in Tennessee. It was my case. They’re taking work away from me! The Tennessee Investigator, however, can work in Tennessee and Mississippi unencumbered.
Last year, I drafted a new Mississippi PI license law shortly after being elected as President of MPIA for the third time in December of 2014. I wrote the law with other state’s laws as a guide, most notably Alabama’s new PI law. I made some alterations based upon what I know about the industry after having been in it for so long and having been licensed in so many states over the years. Shortly thereafter, I met with my Representative, Mark Baker (R) of Brandon, and he agreed to sponsor the bill. Representative Charles Espy (D) believed in the bill so much that he agreed to co-sponsor the legislation giving it bipartisan support. The bill was HB713 “The Mississippi Private Investigation Regulatory Act”. Our primary goal was and remains to license Private Investigators only, not Process Servers, experts, in house (W2) investigators for other companies, etc… We also want the MPIA and the real PI’s who work and live here in Mississippi to have a voice in the licensing process, not people from out of the state who have no real interest in Mississippi, its PI's or citizens, and not just our elected officials.
When I met with Rep. Baker last year, he was concerned there might not be enough PI’s in the state to fund a Mississippi Private Investigator Regulatory Board. He said PI’s may have to be placed under another state agency. I disagreed and explained that’s exactly what Alabama thought when they initially examined their new law. Now, Alabama has over 400 licensed PI’s and their Association has over 250 members.
Earlier this year during our last legislative session, we were able to get the attention of the media and I conducted several news and radio interviews. We are still being contacted about this issue today by the Press:
- Private investigators association wants state licensing
- In Mississippi, even felons can be private investigators
- Should Mississippi's private investigators be required to have a license?
Last session’s bill was being watched all over the country. I received many calls, e-mails and letters of endorsement for HB713.
I was initially told that the likelihood of this law passing the House was slim. However, the House passed the bill unanimously during the last legislative session with bipartisan support! I can tell you that in my trips to the Capitol and to the Governor’s office, I encountered nothing except bipartisan support for that bill. As with the rest of our citizens, most legislators had no idea that PI’s didn’t have to be licensed in Mississippi.
To this day, I have encountered no one who is opposed to the licensing of Private Investigators. Unfortunately, on March 3, 2015, HB 713 died in the Senate Judiciary Committee (A). The bill never made it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. It is no surprise that in 2007, a similar PI law also died in Committee.
Remember, current, experienced, licensed Mississippi PI’s in business prior to the law taking effect should not be affected as they should be grandfathered in for a period. That is, as long as those Investigators can pass a background investigation. Believe me; the out of state PI’s and the BIG out of state PI firms do not want this bill to be passed. They do not want to be forced to license all of their people who are coming in and out of our state taking our jobs away from us. We all know they do not have a real presence here but they will certainly be a source of revenue for the state of Mississippi once PI licensing passes.
Not every law is perfect and who knows what the bill will look like if it ever makes it to the Governor but for all the reasons I and others have cited, we need something and we need it now. Due to that and the things we have learned from other states' new PI laws, I have made some alterations to last year’s bill. Remarkably, so far this year, NO Mississippi legislator has agreed to sponsor the bill. We need everyone’s support so please contact your Mississippi state Senator and Representative. The State Capitol Switchboard (during session only) is (601) 359-3770.
Everyone must realize, the list of states without a licensing requirement for PI’s is getting smaller and smaller, and PI licensure is going to happen everywhere eventually, even in Mississippi, the state that loves to be the last in everything. There is nothing we can do to stop it so why not get involved and have some sort of say in the process. Let’s protect ourselves and let’s protect the citizens of Mississippi.
About the Author
Richard A. Brooks is the owner and lead Investigator of Richard Brooks Investigations, LLC. RBI is based in the Jackson, Mississippi metro area and serves portions of the Southeastern United States. Richard is the Immediate Past President of the Mississippi Professional Investigators Association and the Mississippi Chapter Director of the Association of Christian Investigators. Richard is also a member of other international, national and state PI associations, most notably the Council of (PI) Association Leaders, the National Association of Legal Investigators and the International Intelligence Network. Richard is a former active duty military and civilian law enforcement officer. He has been designated and testified as an expert in general police procedures.